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Fun times
History & Masterpieces

Fun times

Friday, 24 October 2008
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Carol Besler

“Watches are functional art.”

Carol Besler covers watches and jewelry worldwide.

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6 min read

The often very serious art of watchmaking has taken a whimsical detour this year. Several elite watchmakers, possibly in an effort to entertain us, have unleashed a bevy of eccentric timepieces that seem destined to become collectors’ items.

These curiosities, all of which are brazenly unique in some way, are nevertheless serious watches – in some cases quite complicated – with price tags commensurate.

Cartier Santos Triple 100

Here is a watch with a shifting point of view. A quick turn of the crown activates a system of miniature gear trains that set in motion a row of Venetian-blind-like horizontal panels that flip over in unison to reveal three different dials. Dial one is a classic Cartier face with Roman numerals and distinctive chapter ring. Dial two is a paved jewellery watch in a checkerboard pattern in white diamonds and black sapphires. Dial three is an engraving of a tiger’s head. The watch contains a double-barrel manual-wound mechanical movement that is skeletonized and visible through the caseback. It contains a total of 7.6 carats of diamonds. US$ 340,000

Franck Muller Take Your Time

The dial of this watch is based on the notion that appearances count for everything. It depicts the blissful lunchtime hours from 12 to 2 as much longer than those that make up the rest of the day (or night). The hour wheel drives a cam controlling a rack that turns on an axis that allows different spaces or angles between the hours to be displayed. The watch, in other words, is gently trying to con you into thinking lunch lasts longer than meetings. The hour function is clocked on a retrograde scale, so once the hand reaches the 7 at right, it flips back to the 7 at left, and carries on from there. US$ 36,000

Hermès Grand Hours

The Hermès Grand Hours, from the Cape Cod collection, also extends the time period of your choice. In this case, a special wheel causes the hands to move more slowly during those hours, but the movement never actually loses time – it catches up later during the hours that don’t matter. Options include lunch time (from noon to 2 p.m.), or cocktail hour (from 6 to 8 p.m.). The concept is made possible with a module that incorporates a system of oval-toothed wheels that makes it possible to speed up or slow down the movement of the hour hand, while minutes tick by at the traditional pace. US$ 37,000 in gold, US$ 12,000 in steel

Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight in Paris (or New York)

Van Cleef’s quantième movement, launched in 2006, was initially used to drive a line of ladies’ watches with elaborate enameled and gem-set dials. This year the movement powers a men’s watch, with the signature revolving lower dial decorated to represent a portion of the night sky in the northern hemisphere, as seen from Paris. You can also choose your own view of the sky on a given date to mark a birthday or anniversary. Stars are represented by hand-painted points of gold over a background of sparkling aventurine. The caseback harnesses the movement’s day/date function capability with a calendar ring surrounded by meteorite. US$ 64,000 (18k pink gold), US$ 137,000 (18k white gold with baguette diamonds)

De Witt WX-1

This mighty, five-barrel tourbillon looks more like a clock than a watch. Or a submarine, or no, a speedboat. This singular invention looks quite unlike any other object – especially one that tells time. The heart of the watch is a vertically inclined flying tourbillon with a carriage visible through a cylindrical opening on the caseback. The gear train, barrels, tourbillon carriage, power-reserve indicator and winding device are all arranged vertically. An unprecedented five barrels produce 500 hours (approximately 21-days) of power reserve. Time is read on two rotating disks, displayed on a sliding “hood” that is pulled out from the case. Heavy as it looks, components are made of lightweight aluminum-lithium, making it entirely wearable. CHF 680,000

Jaquet Droz Date Astrale Zodiac

Jaquet Droz, not renowned for its application of bling, has nevertheless created one of most surprisingly unique diamond applications ever to appear on a watch dial – the 12 constellations of the zodiac are outlined with diamonds representing the stars. Jaquet’s way of making them sparkle is real genius. Diamonds give off the best brilliance when light can pass through them, hence the popular prong setting for diamond rings. Setting them bezel-style (backed by metal) on a watch dial is less than ideal in terms of light return. So Jaquet applied Superluminova beneath the diamonds to bring them to life. They were given a special cut to enhance the effect. The diamond as retrograde date indicator is another unique, celestial touch. US$ 32,000

Piaget Tourbillon Relatif

The Piaget Tourbillon Relatif New York (or Paris) fetishizes your favorite city with a relief carving on the case side. The Eiffel Tower, Grande Roue (big ferris wheel), Louvre and Arc de Triomphe are carved on the Paris watch in 18k white gold against a champlevé enamel backdrop. The New York engraving is a view of the city from Liberty Island on one side and the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges on the other. The Paris dial is engraved with the names of its 12 avenues, while New York is carved with silhouette views of the city’s 12 tallest buildings. The watch is a flying tourbillon. Piaget will make three of each. US$ 480,900

Vacheron Constantin Quai de L’Ile

Vacheron ups the ante on the concept of bespoke with this piece. Each watch is custom-sized by manipulating seven separate adjustable components in the case and lugs. Customers can choose from three metal options (pink gold, titanium and palladium), two dial options (according to the movement), two finish options (rhodium for a light finish or ruthenium for a darker one) and two different movements (a self-winding date or a self-winding day/date and power reserve). A Vacheron Constantin passport, made according to the security standards of a Swiss passport, accompanies every watch. The dial is personalized with security-printing technology of the sort used in bank notes and passports (with elements like secret texts, micro-printing, security inks and UV markings). The result is 400 different possible combinations, which is the precise number VC will make. It comes with a magnifying glass to examine the secret codes. In a traditional touch, the watch is named for the brand’s historic Geneva address. From US$ 29,900 to US$ 42,400

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